Now in her fourth year at MTSU, Jones College of Business associate accounting professor Andrea Kelton didn’t have a Staples Easy Button to help her through the unprecedented COVID-19 learning environment. But the “one-button” campus technology she’s had available made for a great additional tool to ease her transition into a new instructional world.
Kelton has utilized the Jones College “One-Button Studio” to pre-record all of her lectures, freeing her to spend class time on problem-solving, in the true spirit of the “flipped” classroom concept.
“It’s a very simple setup. … I consider myself very lucky in terms of the resources I’ve had and the technology I’ve had access to, even pre-COVID,” said Kelton, praising Jones College IT Resources Director Carlos Coronel for developing the one-button studio inside the Business and Aerospace Building.
She has also taken full advantage of all of the features of D2L, the acronym for the university’s Desire2Learn online learning management system for students and faculty. The platform has allowed her to better track due dates and progress of her students, who have described her approach as “very user-friendly.”
The one-button studio allows Jones College of Business faculty and others to easily pre-record and upload video lectures into Panopto, a video management system that allows instructors to create video presentations, capture and record lectures, add narrations to presentations and other tools enabling the university to offer a wide variety of hybrid courses.
Kelton recalls attending her first training of the one-button studio in fall 2019 not knowing how important the technology would become less than six months later when the pandemic forced the university to an all-remote learning environment.
She “bought in 100%” to the new instructional landscape and taught an asynchronous online summer class, pre-recording all of her lectures and taking it a step further by re-recording lectures for a graduate course “to make it more engaging for students.”
“I’ve certainly been incentivized to think of different ways to interact with my students and think about how I could better deliver information to them,” said Kelton, adding that even though she’s been teaching in higher education since 2006, “in some ways, I feel like I’m starting over.”
“I’ve tried to focus on the fact that I know I’ll be a better teacher on the other side of this,” she said. “I have no doubt because it’s really forced me to think critically about every single thing I do in a course in terms of: ‘What’s the value of it to the student? Is there a better way I can deliver that content?’ … I’ve had to rethink it all. But I think it’s made me a better teacher.”
‘I miss my students’
And the new environment forced her, like many others, out of certain comfort zones in how they taught their classes. While the one-button studio is simple to use, Kelton said she did need some practice on lecturing in front of a green screen and developing an engaging presence on camera.
“I was very nervous and very self-conscious at first … I’m an accountant, I’m not performative at all!” she said, laughing. “But you get used to it, and we’re all different.”
One thing she did to give her video presentations a more natural feel was keeping “mistakes” in the recordings, such as a flubbed word, a sneeze, or a wrongly-directed finger point to background visual.
“I leave it. I think it gives it that sort of human touch that happens all of the time in the classroom, so why wouldn’t it happen in a recording-type situation?” she said. “It reminds students that I’m human and I’m going to make mistakes. And if I can make them laugh while they’re watching the video, I think that’s a win.”
She noticed that a student marked in their course evaluations that they “loved watching the recording lectures,” a promising sign in her book.
Kelton taught some in-person courses this fall, such as a master’s course that met one night a week and is now web-assisted. She had an undergraduate course that was previously all on-ground that now includes some pre-recorded lectures to reduce the amount of in-person interaction.
In Kelton’s view, she and other faculty and instructors may have taken for granted those pre-COVID days when they were guaranteed almost 90 minutes, twice a week of in-person, face-to-face interaction with students to answer questions and deliver instructions for assignments.
In this virtual environment, however, “I’ve had to be much more intentional about my delivery … making sure everybody’s up to date, making sure nobody falls behind,” she said. Thankfully, D2L comes with tools that facilitate such tracking.
And while there’s obviously a market for online degree programs, Kelton thinks most MTSU students are itching to get back to in-person classes. She recalled running into one of her online students on campus during the semester, but didn’t initially recognize them at first because of the mandatory face coverings on campus.
“I think they want to be back in the classroom,” she said. “We’re known for a really high touch faculty in the Jones College. Our students have a lot of opportunities to interact with the profession while they’re here. … All of those characteristics really draw students to our program.”
Meanwhile, Kelton and other faculty continue working extra hours and developing new virtual skills to meet the present challenge, all while looking forward to the day when the on-campus classroom is again the focus of their days.
“I think some of the stigma surrounding online education has been taken away. … I think it’s given all faculty an opportunity to see what’s possible with online education,” she said. “But I’m ready to get back face-to-face full time. I miss my students.”
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)